Eco Femme is Leading the Cloth Sanitary Pad Revolution in India
Eco Femme is a one-of-kind community initiative improving the lives of thousands of women.
By Sanskriti Sanghi
India has a population of 355 million menstruating women and girls.
An overwhelming majority of this population still considers menstruation a taboo. More than 23 million girls drop out of school due to the absence of toilets and lack of awareness about menstruation and menstrual hygiene management. Over 88% of these menstruating women use unsafe sanitary products to manage their periods.
The problem doesn't end there. While access to sanitary napkins is a glaring issue, the resulting non-biodegradable waste these pads generate leads to grave environmental distress.
India is battling too many problems when it comes to menstrual health and hygiene management. It is therefore extremely crucial for this fight to be a holistic and informed one. The world, as we speak, is witnessing a shared push toward healthier and more sustainable menstrual practices, and the reusable cloth pad has brought a whole new potential to this movement.
Aptly called “The Cloth Pad Revolution,” a social enterprise in India called Eco Femme has placed itself at the heart of it.
Founded in 2010 by Jessamijn Miedema and Kathy Walkling, Eco Femme promotes sustainable menstrual health and hygiene in Tamil Nadu, India. Eco Femme has been on an incessant journey to not only promote eco-friendly menstrual practices, but also to encourage women to make and pass on the baton of sustainable choice around.
In consonance with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), 5 (Gender Equality), and 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), the initiative espouses the idea that the "inevitability of menstruation shouldn’t be the cause of discomfort for women and distress for the environment."
The organisation runs on the basic tenet of creating an environmentally sustainable model to reduce non-biodegradable menstrual waste, while creating awareness around issues of menstrual health and hygiene. It produces and sells washable and reusable cloth pads, and also imparts menstrual health education to adolescents. Eco Femme hosts open dialogues for women across all age groups to talk and adopt sustainable and culturally responsive practices.
Apart from promoting sustainable menstrual practices, Eco Femme has made some remarkable strides in the domain of attaining overall well-being of women. The organisation aims to help women recognize the importance of doing business with a sense of social responsibility. It also educates women in better business practices that are not merely limited to the domain of self-empowerment and supports their livelihoods in a sustainable way, thus allowing them to be catalysts of change for the society overall.
As a social enterprise, Eco Femme's model is a kind of hybrid between a nonprofit and for-profit company. The organisation sells pads in India and across the world, and from the profits made from these sales, it conducts educational activities in menstrual hygiene and women's well-being, focussing especially on Auroville.
Apart from the day-to-day functioning of the business, Eco Femme has encouraged women to go beyond the education they receive and actually implement their learnings.
Its "Pad for Pad" initiative was started to teach adolescent girls below the age of 19 to break the taboo around menstruation and engage in a healthy discourse through several interactive tools. Another successful movement is the "Pad for Sisters," which subsidizes pads for economically disadvantaged populations.
Eco Femme has also established a robust ambassador network, including several universities around the country, which provides a forum for the discussion on menstrual practices.
Eco Femme has been the starting point for several crucial discussions in Tamil Nadu society on fighting the stigma around periods. The organisation hosts sessions where girls are provided with a kit containing cloth pads and an oath to pass on the message to at least one more person.
The social media presence of Eco Femme and its blog, along with other methods of disseminating information, has allowed it to have a close interaction with the urban youth as well. The success of Eco Femme is a testament to the impact a dedicated network of passionate individuals can have on society.
The organisation’s constant efforts toward sustainable improvement of menstrual health and hygiene have resulted in a movement going much beyond the borders of Tamil Nadu. Many other organisations. such as Silky Cup, Rustic Art, SheCup, and Jaioni, have come to the fore of this revolution against unsustainable and unhealthy menstrual practices and are leading the change that local communities need.
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